Angela Bardes’s Ed.D. Dissertation Defense – “I’m Kind of Woke”: A Teacher Action Research Study of a Social Justice Literature Course in a Privileged Community
Committee: Dr. Mary Curran (Chair), Dr. Karishma Desai, Dr. Nicole Mirra
The many manifestations of social justice education center the experiences of the marginalized and oppressed to create a more democratic society. In recent years, scholars have begun to argue that privileged students, not the marginalized, should be the target of social justice education, advocating for a pedagogy that puts the onus on the privileged to dismantle white supremacy and other systems of oppression. This teacher action research study uses social and cultural capital theory and critical race theory, specifically critical whiteness studies, to analyze the experiences of students enrolled in a new twelfth-grade social justice literature course in a privileged community in northern New Jersey. Using ethnographic and action research methods, including fieldnotes, interviews, student work artifacts, audio of class discussions, personal reflections, and more, this study explores how privileged students and their teacher navigate a curriculum that deals with social justice issues that they may believe are not always directly relevant to their lives.
The research questions guiding this study were: 1) How do students in a privileged community experience social justice curriculum and pedagogy in their English class? and 2) How does the teacher experience and make sense of teaching a course dealing with social justice issues within the sociopolitical context of a privileged school district? Findings revealed the complex role of whiteness in a social justice literature course comprised of mostly White and Asian American students; personalizing social justice issues for privileged students; planning for multiple ways for students to reflect on and analyze their personal experiences and conceptions of privilege; and fostering a classroom environment that is comfortable enough for students to feel safe yet allows for the discomfort necessary for real learning to occur.
This teacher action research study analyzes the role of privilege in the classroom both for the privileged students who must, directly and indirectly, confront it through the curriculum, and for the teacher who must enact that curriculum within both the school context and the context of her background, teaching experience, and social identities, some of which are different from those of her students.
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